Panama and Josh Groban

Now what would Panama and Josh Groban have in common? Maybe he has performed in Panama?  Maybe Panama has banned Josh Groban from sharing his amazing voice with their people?  Maybe Panama named a city after Josh Groban? Or, maybe those two have nothing in common at all . . . well, at least as far as I can tell.  So why the funny title to this post?  Because a few weeks ago Paul and I had to do something SO HARD, and a little bit crazy, that only “not giving up” and a HUGE dose of faith got us through.  Ironically, I have found that I have a “theme song” while living in Costa Rica.  That theme song is the tie to Josh Groban.  I think you can guess which song of his it is . . .

 

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(Actually, it is formally called “You are Loved” but we all know it by “Don’t Give UP!”)  

Yep, none better!  Every time I think, “This is it, I think I’m sunk.  How am I ever going to get the strength to do this one?” my sweet Itunes playlist “sings” me this song.  It has always been a special treat for me to be serenaded by the Spirit.  It seems that when life gets you down the most, your favorite song comes on the radio, or you get every green light on the toughest of days, or you finally have someone say hello in ENGLISH while living in a foreign country and you are so shocked, all you can do is say “Hi!” back to them (instead of Hola!).

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It is on those tough days that I deepen my faith, I see that life is created to give us MORE than we could ever imagine, and it is through others we can literally SEE and FEEL our Father in Heaven and Savior’s love for us.  I am truly grateful for the miracles that took place for our family that week and I truly believe that they occurred because we first had faith, second – we “repented”, third – we made sure to take the sacrament (renewal of baptismal covenants), fourth – we listened for and to the Holy Ghost, and fifth – we ENDURED to the end!

The 1st principals of the gospel are REAL!  I have SEEN then work in my life, they will in your life too, if you give it a try.  Are you ready to hear about our latest adventure in Costa Rica and the second part of the title? Well here you go!

It all started one Friday night (May 8th, 2015).  E had YM’s at the ward and Paul had a restaurant opening for a recent employee that he wanted the family to attend.  We decided to go without E and make it a fun “younger kids” night out.

The restaurant was nice, Brazilian Style, and a bit pricey but it was in the name of friendship.  We left the restaurant with plenty of time to pick up E, when we were flagged over by a Costa Rican Traffic cop on foot.  WHAT?!?!?  Apparently we are not allowed to make right hand turns at  red lights in Costa Rica.  Good to know!  Unfortunately, we found out a little too late.

 

So, we calmly pulled over and began to receive a “talking to” by the cop, because not only did we break the law, we also found out that we supposedly were not allowed to drive on the roads in Costa Rica any longer . . . double WHAT?!?!?  Now, let me back up.  We had been forewarned by the temple president that this would happen to us but when we asked our lawyer about it, but he never responded back.  We had so many other things going on, like a blown up floor, mis suegros here for a visit (that is “my in-laws” in Spanish – one of my few Spanish words that I can shock people with!) and all the other fun things that parents get to juggle raising 4 kids, that we didn’t investigate this ourselves, to see if this was actually true.  From all that we had been told, we would be safe driving in Costa Rica since our visa was “IN PROCESS.”

The only problem was knowing what to do, now that we are in this pickle?  Long story short, the cop threatened to take our license plates off of the car until we could pay the fine and have permission to drive again.  The only way to get permission to drive again, since our visas are “IN PROCESS” (aka – backlogged), is to leave the country and return with a new stamp in our passport, which would allow us another 90 days to drive in Costa Rica legally.  Strange!  We were told differently but se la vie!

After the cop chewed Paul out for what seemed like forever, he suddenly stopped, handed Paul back his license, made a few “jokes” (to which Paul just said “sure”) and we were on the road again.  WHAT?  The man was obviously looking for a bribe because he couldn’t give us a ticket on a U.S. driver’s license.  I am so grateful that the truth came out and the cop gave us the license back but the experience was miserable enough that we didn’t want to drive on the roads again until we KNEW THE TRUTH!!

Although we didn’t know who to believe, the Temple President or our attorney and other “friends” who told us we would be fine driving until our visas were approved, we were determined to figure this out without further reprimand or involvement from the local authorities.  The next morning we woke up bright and early to a FULL DAY of activities for our family.  I had Fe en Dios (Faith in God for boys and girls) with K, while Paul had to take G and L to a birthday party 30 minutes away.  E had a boat-load of homework to do.  But what were we going to do?  Stay home?

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After an hour of discussing, we drummed up the courage to call for Paul’s company driver and had him drop me and K off at the church and then take P and the other 2 kiddos to the party.  This driver is super expensive but we needed a vehicle large enough to take all 5 of us, plus booster seats.  We didn’t know what K and I should do to get home after Fe en Dios, but we felt we should just play things out by ear and see what happens.  While at Fe en Dios, I told the Primary President what was happening and she told me she had a WONDERFUL taxi driver she uses each day to get to work – you see, very few Costa Ricans own cars.  Most use the public transportation (buses or trains), taxis or walk.  We are the odd ducks here.  I believe that is why our attorney didn’t check into our concerns, it wasn’t something that they worry about around here.

I called Paul to make sure he was okay with us taking a taxi and he agreed.  K and I loaded up the car and got home in under 10 minutes and only had to pay $2.00.  NOT BAD for a taxi ride home.  Paul came home with the kiddos, tired and frustrated.  Sure, we made it today, but what about tomorrow and Monday?  We were waiting to hear from our Attorney what we could do about this problem but it was Saturday, no one works on Saturday if they can help it!  So, we did the next best thing, we started looking for rides to church.

Paul needed to be in his ward he serves in, Ojo de Agua, at 7:00 am and E needed to be at our ward by 8:30 to help set up the sacrament.  We felt good about contacting one of the temple missionary couples to help us with rides to and from church but we also had two more meetings to go to that afternoon – K and G had Stake Conference Primary Choir practice and Paul had High Council meetings.  We decided to find a ride within the ward, from a ward member who actually owned a car, for the later meetings and only use the missionaries for the morning.  Both arrangements worked out and it just so happened to be Mother’s Day in the U.S.  What a gift for a mother to receive – rides for her entire family to attend church!!  This experience reminded me of a recent conference talk about some African members who walked for days to get books of Mormon and take the sacrament and then walked days home.  I was only bumming a ride, how hard could THAT be?

The Maughn’s, some sweet Temple Missionaries, were angels to pick up Paul early for his meeting and to then return and pick us up. Then they drove us home, while Paul received a ride from a member of the Stake Presidency.  We were truly blessed and to our surprise, the sisters missionaries STILL wanted to come to our home for lunch even though they had to take a bus to get here.  We enjoyed a Mother’s Day feast of Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches (something one of the sister missionaries from Columbia had only had with Americans and LOVED!), Rikkos (our family’s favorite chips – think of cheetos puffs), celery with PB and craisins, apples with Nutella & PB and homemade, fresh from the oven, Chocolate Chip cookies with cups of cold milk.  It truly was a FEAST and the sisters loved every bite!

We only had a few minutes to rest after they left, when Paul found out he didn’t need to go to the meeting and we had a Stake Primary counselor (and her husband, our newest Bishopric counselor) give the kiddos a ride to the choir practice.  Paul and I decided to rest but then the questions started to pile up.  How are we going to get the kids to and from school?  We need groceries, how are we going to get groceries?  How is Paul going to get to work, he is needed in the office all week?  What were we to do?

As a family, we took the time to sit and pray that night about what would be best for our family.  We had each family member come up with different solutions to our problem.  Many of them wanted us to just get a taxi but they are SO VERY EXPENSIVE, plus they only have room to safely drive the 4 kids and I didn’t like the idea of not being with them in the taxi.   Fortunately Paul had shared our struggles with a dear friend, Spencer, who offered help in the form of a Young Man who lives with him named Cristopher.  They came up with the idea that Cristopher could drive our car for us and act as our driver for as many days as we needed him.  We asked the family if they liked that idea and most of them said yes.  So we prayed to know if it was our best choice and asked that we be guided through this trial, until we could legally and safely drive on the roads again.

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We fell in love with Cristopher instantly!  He is literally an angel to our family!  He came over to our home Sunday night, met our family and drove for Paul, so we could see if we could trust his driving.  As a family, we all fell in love!  He fit right in and gave us, me most of all, the peace we needed to face the next few days.  We didn’t know if this process was going to take weeks but we went forward with faith, hoping things would work out for the best.

The next day, Cristopher was here, bright and early (he had taken our car home the night before) to take E and I to pick up the other 3 kiddos for Seminary at 4:40 am.  Cristopher and I then visited in the car while the kids were in class.  Cristopher is an amazing young man! I am so glad I get to know him.  Cristopher then drove us all home, had a bite to eat with Paul and then took us to all the places we needed to be that day.  He even took me to PriceSmart (think Sam’s club).  He had the best attitude!!

While Cristopher and I were off dropping off and picking up kiddos all day, Paul was busy trying to find out the truth of our situation and what was needed for us to remedy it.  He found out that we indeed had to leave the country and then return so we could have a new stamp in our passports, which would allow us to drive in Costa Rica for up to 90 days (depending on what the immigration office wrote on the passport).  The biggest question now was how many days did we need to leave the country?  The law states 3 if you are not a resident but we had our visas in process, would that be enough to get us out and in, in just one day?  The temple missionaries were able to do that, but would we be able to?

As we were debating what to do, we went ahead and made arrangements for Cristopher to drive the kids to and from school and then found a Young Woman in our ward to babysit the kids for us, until we got home (that night or 3 days later – hoping for the earlier).  I, of course, was freaking out in my mind occasionally at how wild and crazy this idea was.  Would we be able to do this?  Would the kids be safe?  Should we take the kids with us?  What if something happened to us or them?  But the thoughts only brought fear and pain.  So, I turned to my Young Woman’s Personal Progress days and decided to turn to Faith, instead of fear!

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Just as we finalized Paul’s company driver to take us to Panama, Paul received a surprise email (around 5 pm).  The email was from our attorney!  No, it didn’t say we didn’t need to go to Panama, but  . . . . it was the document we needed to prove we were APPROVED for our visas and had the right to go out of Costa Rica and come right back in, all in one day.  Now we needed to pray that the officials would honor our document and not give us a hard time with it.

We woke at 4:30 am the next day (Tuesday, May 12th), kissed the kiddos on their sleeping heads and left Cristopher in charge as we hopped into the car for a VERY LONG drive to Panama.  Now, we had two choices.  We could have gone to Panama or Nicaragua.  We chose Panama because it receives a lot less traffic through the borders, especially on a weekday and it was the same place that the Temple Missionaries had gone to and they were able to get in and out in one day, so we were hoping to have the same success.

It was a LONG drive!  I sat in the back seat of a Toyota Prado (think Sequoia Forerunner mix), while Paul sat in the front seat.  He is good friends with Frank, our driver.  We had some great chats but mostly I watched movies.  I focused on staying positive, staying calm and trusting that things would work out the best way we needed them to be. I also got to enjoy some much needed R&R.  It had been months since I had watched a movie on my own.  I chose “The Lake House” with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves.  Not bad for a drive through beautiful Costa Rica.

The border that we were driving to was on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and the only road we could take took us to the top of a volcano, down through the rain forest and then to the stormy ocean.  Unfortunately the weather was terrible that day, Paul had hoped to check out the beach but it rained and rained and rained!

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Isn’t this BEAUTIFUL!  I LOVE GREEN!  GREEN IS MY NEW FAVORITE COLOR!  (Can you see the rain drops on the windshield?)

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We did get to stop and have a bite to eat a few hours into the ride.  The breakfast was delicious and the warm Caribbean air was delightful.

We FINALLY arrived at the border.  It was just like so many movies we have seen with people having to get out in a sketchy area and hope they can safely cross.  We did feel safe however, our only concerns were how the officers were going to handle our situation.  Our driver agreed to come into Panama with us, so he dropped us off to park his car in a safe spot, while we “exited” Costa Rica.  We paid our exit tax ($7.oo each) and then it was time to cross the border, which was . . . . (look at my poor face)

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A very slippery, rather unsafe bridge!  I was SO GRATEFUL we hadn’t brought our children with us!

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Doesn’t this LOOK like Panama?  Look at the jungle in the background, the men carrying luggage on their shoulders, the moss and rust coated bridge.  Eeeck! But exciting at the same time.

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Here is an upclose look at the bridge.  It was pretty rusty and we were amazed it was still standing!

We made it over the bridge and were “allowed” into Panama after one of the officers studiously studied all of our documents.  Seriously, like we want to hide in Panama!  Finally, he believed us and let us in.  Brother!  Step one done.  Now to spend a little time in Panama and then make our way back over the border again.  It was raining heavy drops of rain, we were desperately trying to find a taxi.  Finally our driver searched one out and he took us into the nearest city, where they had a “mall” so we could go shopping (that was what we told the Panama officer we were doing in Panama).  We were actually stopped by an armed military officer on the road who asked ME, not the men who spoke Spanish in the car, what we were doing in Panama.  I froze.  He then said, in his broken English, “shooping?”  I was confused and then he said it again, “shooping?”  Paul said, “YES!” and he shut the door.  I hadn’t seen a military officer in so long, I guess it made me nervous.  Costa Rica has no army and I wasn’t used to being pulled over by military before, only cops.  WOW!  What a different feeling Panama had to it because of the armed soldiers.  That experience made me grateful we lived in Costa Rica and not in Panama.

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As we drove into Panama, we sped past huge plantations of BANANA fields.  They were INCREDIBLE!!  Chaquita banana has a plant right outside of the border.  I wished we could have toured it but the workers were working right on the side of the road, so we could see everything in detail.  Only problem was taking a photo worth anything to look at.  But the photo at least shows the bunches of banana trees for acres and acres.  Each tree only produces one stalk of bananas.  The bananas are covered by a plastic sack with insecticide in it and once the banana stalk is cut, the tree dies and a new one grows in its place.  Crazy.  Kind of like a celery plant, in a way?

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Fortunately the banana plantations entertained us because we were riding in a rickety old truck with the metal showing on the floors and NO seat belts.  Again, what do you do instead of freak out . . . SMILE!!

We made our way into the city and enjoyed some cheap shopping. Boy have I missed U.S. prices.  We found some fun items . . . brown sugar, karo syrup, a few clothing items for around $10 each (would have been double in Costa Rica) and a few snacks for the ride home.  We ate lunch at an interesting little restaurant but it didn’t sit well.  Then it was time to head back to the border.

We had a bit of a struggle getting “out” of Panama.  We couldn’t tell what the hold up was.  The officer helping me kept looking at me and then looking at my passport.  I really felt uncomfortable.  Then he held up his right hand and waited for me to do the same, then he put it down and raised it up again.  I looked at Paul confused, wondering if they wanted me to swear that I was telling the truth?  I help up my hand again and he put his down and then raised his hand again a third time.  Paul finally asked him what his problem was and the man said, “HOW!!”  I looked at him confused until I saw my reflection in the glass window separating us.  He was reacting to my long hair and that I was from the United States.  Seriously!?!?  I look like an Indian!

I really didn’t get upset but patiently waited for my passport, which he FINALLY gave back to me.  Hallelujah!  But boy what discrimination and being human, all in one moment.  He tried to make a correlation between what he saw and what he knew.  My long hair and my passport brought to his memory the word “how!”  I get to choose to take offense.  It is my problem, not his.  For all I know, He likes me?  It is sad to see how this world is without Heavenly Father there to help us understand and treat each other the way we each would like to be treated.  I have also truly taken for granted being a white woman in the U.S.A.  My eyes are opening more and more to what the rest of the world endures, living outside the US or living in the US and not being “like the majority” of the community.

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The rain was slowing down, of course – now that I had an umbrella.  We made our way to pay our “exit tax” for Panama and saw this beautiful view.  I imagined how many people have tried to swim this great river to get to one country or the other.  It made me realize how truly invisible borders are but how we as people are the ones who make them permanent.  It has also lead me to ask, “Have I put up a border with someone whom I shouldn’t have?  And if I have, are there ways that that person(s) could find a way to come across that border one day?”  I am so grateful that our Savior stands at the border to our Father in Heaven’s kingdom and I pray that I am found “worthy” to cross that border!  Isn’t that the whole purpose to this life?  To see which side of the border we want to be on?  As for me, I am grateful to live on the Costa Rica side of this border.  Now here’s hoping we are allowed back in!!

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Here is a better look at the bridge from the Panama side.  Just look at this thing, it is a beast and it is over 100 years old!

We made the LONG walk back to the other side of the bridge, one careful, articulated step at a time.  Our driver went first, so he could go get the car.  I prayed we would be able to join him!  Paul and I approached the little office and each had an officer to work with.  The female officer Paul had looked at his passport and said, “NO!  No entrance.”  Paul handed her our documents and she scrutinized them.  She turned to the officer helping me, he being a bit slower than her, and she asked what she should do.  He looked at me through his bi-focals without raising his head.  He looked at Paul and then back at me.  This is the moment you are praying you have the right face, the right feeling about you, the right attitude so that they will not give you any grief and just let you pass.

He looked back at her and said, “Let them enter.”  Interesting comment, right?!?  But it washed over me with such relief!  I GET TO SEE MY KIDS AGAIN!  I only needed to make a LONG car ride home but I was being given the opportunity to SEE my kids again very soon.  Isn’t that another metaphor for this life.  I was allowed to enter where my children are waiting for me.  My daughter Kayleigh is waiting for me already.  Will I do all I can, have the proper paper work and honest heart, that I can be found worthy to enter?  Interesting moment and one that only just hit me.  .  . “Let them enter.”  Something to be grateful for today!

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This says “Welcome to Costa Rica” – I don’t mind if I do!  

For as you can tell, I did make it home, safe and sound.  We made the LONG journey home a quick one, only taking a quick restroom stop once.  We got home hours before we thought, by 8:30, and even enjoyed a VERY LATE (Tico time) dinner of grilled ham & cheese sandwiches that never tasted better.  I was able to kiss each of my kiddos on their heads, give them a hug and pray with them before they slept.  The day was OVER!  We had DONE ALL THAT WE HAD BEEN ASKED TO DO!  We had been faithful, we sought to change and make things right (repentance), we made it a goal and a priority to go to church (partook of the sacrament and the renewed energy given that we needed to move onto the next step), we sought the will of our Heavenly Father through prayer and the guidance of the Holy Ghost to make the tough choices that needed to be made on Monday, and then we ENDURED TO THE END by following through with the promptings and doing our best to be honest and kind while on our journey to truth.

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Needless to say, we were EXHAUSTED when we went to bed but truly SATISFIED.  We had done what had been given us to do. We had been tested to see “if they will do ALL THINGS commanded them” and we never have felt more grateful to hold a temple recommend and to fight for our worthiness to do so.  I am so grateful to have this blog, because I now will have a record of this trying, faith building, humbling experience.  I had to CHOOSE to be all these things.  I could have easily doubted, I was tempted over and over to be doubtful, but I chose instead to trust in Heavenly Father and what He had to teach us.  I am richly blessed!

I testify that our Savior Lives!  He is who is making a happy life for us possible.  His love and joy are boundless (without borders). He loves all of us.  We just have to choose to let Him in.  Are you?

jesus I had this picture hanging on the wall of my primary room as a child.  I remember looking at it but NEVER noticing that there wasn’t a door knob to let him open the door.  That is OUR responsibility.  He will continue to knock as long as He can.  Please don’t make Him continue to wait for you to answer your door.  Let Him in, you can trust Him!  I do!

In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, the son of God and Savior of ALL mankind, Amen.

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